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The award supports a collaborative project between UNC-Chapel Hill and NC State University. Researchers will develop a new short-wave infrared light camera and train a diverse group of students in using innovative technologies.

Wei You stands outside underneath a green tree.
Chemistry department chair Wei You is part of a collaborative team that recently received NSF support to develop a new short-wave infrared light camera.

UNC-Chapel Hill chemist Wei You and NC State University collaborators received a three-year, $1.88 million grant from the National Science foundation to develop a new short-wave infrared light camera and train the next generation of engineers. The NC State team is under the leadership of professor Franky So.

The researchers were among 24 projects recently funded with a total investment of $45.6 million from the NSF Future of Semiconductors (FuSe) program, the CHIPS and Science Act of 2022 and private partners Ericsson, IBM, Intel and Samsung.

Collage showing a foggy night taken with a SWIR and an RGB camera and an apple taken with a SWIR and RGB camera.
Top images show a foggy day taken with an RGB camera (left) and a SWIR camera. Bottom images show a rotten apple taken with an RGB camera (left) and a SWIR camera.

The project, “FuSe: Polymer SWIR Photodiodes for Focal Plane Arrays” addresses the need for better cameras that can improve visibility — at a lower cost.

While it is not visible to the human eye, short-wave infrared light (SWIR) offers several advantages over visible light for imaging applications. Because of its longer wavelength compared to visible light, SWIR is not scattered by smoke particles or water moisture. Consequently, under foggy or severe weather conditions, SWIR imaging can significantly improve visibility, making such cameras invaluable for autonomous driving, for example.

“Short-wave infrared imaging has many unique features and can revolutionize a number of important applications,” said You, who is also chair of the department of chemistry in UNC’s College of Arts and Sciences. “Yet the light-sensing element and related fabrication are prohibitively expensive and complicated for large-scale applications. Our goal is to create SWIR sensors at the price point of smartphone cameras.”

You shared another example of the unique features of SWIR imaging.

“Due to strong water absorption in the SWIR wavelength region, this type of camera can ‘see’ the rotten part of an apple, for example, which appears perfectly ‘normal’ due to visible light reflection from its colorful skin,” he added.

As part of the grant, education and workforce development efforts will also recruit, mentor and train a diverse group of 10 university and 10 community college “FuSe Fellows” in research labs, and the program will provide meaningful career explorations, classroom Zoom visits and campus lab tours for 1,000 rural, early college high school students.

You stressed the importance of the education component of the award.

“We need to educate and recruit the next generation of scientists, which needs to reflect the diverse nature of humanity,” he said. “Technological advancement needs to benefit everyone, and everyone should have the opportunity to participate in pushing the new frontiers of science and technology.”

In addition to So, other collaborators at NC State include Veena Misra, Kenan Gundogdu and Margaret Blanchard.

Learn more about the recent awards.


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